Only 12.5% of all truck transportation workers are women. Less than eight percent are drivers. Despite this small percentage, there is a growing amount of organizations, advocates, events, and resources for women in the industry. For Women’s History Month, we’re honored to share and celebrate some of their stories.
Shelle Lichti has been behind the wheel for over 25 years, hauling for Hirshbach for the past eleven. She’s a passionate advocate for both women’s and LGBTQ+ trucking rights and is the founder of LGBT Truckers, a group that provides community and conversation in a safe, accepting space.
Shelle started LGBT Truckers following the 2008 suicide of a gay friend who was brutalized by a group of drivers at a truck stop. The group began as a series of conference calls and open forums to discuss safety issues for LGBTQ+ drivers. Through word of mouth and social media, it has since grown to almost 4,000 members. Moving forward, Shelle has big goals for the future of the group. She envisions in-person networking events, education for trucking companies on how to keep their drivers safe and happy, and an online store that partially funds scholarships for newcomers to the industry as well as therapy for drivers.
Shelle is also an avid animal-lover and drives with her two cats, Wobbles and Nella. She also cares for and trains other rescues, making them suitable for life on the road and then rehoming them with drivers.
How Shelle got into trucking:
“This industry raised me. I came out here when I was 14 years old. I was a runaway who would hitch rides with truck drivers. Then I taught myself how to drive. The first time I drove a truck, I ground the snot out of the gears. I became a full-time driver when I was 16. It was good money and a good challenge, even though I had to lie about my age at first.”
Why she’s an advocate:
“Those who have been abused by others or by the system tend to become givers. They fight for the rights of others because they had no one to fight for them. I had a lot to prove, especially coming from rough beginnings. I was put into the system at seven or eight years old and was in multiple foster homes. Eventually, I was adopted by a family who already had six kids. It wasn’t the right environment for me, so I ended up on the streets.
But all the challenges I faced made me a stronger person. I could have used my past as a crutch or an excuse. I could have become a mean, hardened woman. But I use my experiences to help others overcome and to show them that someone cares. In this industry, you need to lead by example. You can have a voice.”
Being a woman in a traditionally male-dominated industry:
“Trucking has been the last bastion for acceptable sexual harassment because of the good ole boy mentality. It comes from other drivers, shippers, dispatchers, trainers, even cops who deal with truck drivers. For many years, women in the industry couldn’t talk openly about what was happening to them.
We kept our eyes and our heads down and just did our jobs. I always say we have to do it twice as well to get the same amount of disrespect. I once had men stand on a dock making bets on whether or not I could back my truck in. I got out of my truck and bet $100 that I could. With the evolution of social media, women are now reaching out and expressing themselves. They’re connecting with and empowering other women.”
A woman in trucking she admires:
“I have a friend who’s an owner-operator in her late 60s. She started team driving with her husband until his health deteriorated. She continued driving while caring for him, and she continued driving even after he passed away. She’s still out here.”
What she loves about trucking:
“I was always fascinated by trucks. Originally, I was attracted to the power, the size, and freedom. Freedom to get out of a bad situation, to eventually be the person I wanted to be and not what my circumstances dictated, and to break the stereotypes."
Advice for other women:
“I advise women every day to get into this industry, even with the challenges. You have to be confident in yourself, happy to be alone, enjoy driving, and be a self-motivator. To a point, you also have to be fearless and make snap decisions under pressure. You also have to have thick skin and a backbone because harassment is still an issue.”
The views and opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the individual being featured. Experiences may vary.